Chanel chose Cuba for its latest show on May 3rd. More precisely, the runway show took place in El Prado, the long and narrow park dividing the touristy Old Havana from Central Havana, historically home to lower-income families.
After Fidel Castro won power in the 1959 revolution, the communist principles that ruled in Cuba insisted on equality, even in clothing. Private businesses were illegal and foreign brands were not available until the ‘90s, when the market started to open up gradually. When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Cuba entered a serious crisis. Cubans had to wear imported second-hand clothes from state-run stores. In the period that followed the collapse, though, the heavily Soviet-subsidized economy forced the government to loosen restrictions.
These days, more and more tourists are flooding into Havana, Cubans are opening private restaurants and more and more companies are investing in hotels (Starwood will be the first U.S company to run Cuba hotels). And it seems like the gap between rich and poor, greatly reduced in the past, is beginning to widen again.
During the show the models wore fedoras reminiscent of those sold in Havana tourist shops. A Cuban comparsa closed the show playing some local music as guests were posing with local schoolchildren against crumbling buildings and inside pre-Communist-era cars.
Despite being private, the event created a lot of buzz. Many Cubans say they are delighted their country is opening itself to the world, but for others are worried Cuba will become the next touristic playground. They believe the conversion of Cuba into a stage set for some of the world’s wealthiest people will be the failure of the promises of sustainable socialist equality.
Some say “Chanel is going to mark a before and an after in the history of Cuba”. Is it a good thing, in a country where the average doctor makes $20 to 30 a month? If Chanel were to open a store in Havana, who it would be built for?
Photo credits: Harper’s Bazaar; Gioia